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TOURISM

‘A European exception’: How tourists are flocking back to France after Covid

France is looking forward to a strong summer for tourism as homegrown holidaymaker numbers are boosted by the return of international travellers after two years of Covid-19.

'A European exception': How tourists are flocking back to France after Covid
Visitors queue to enter the Louvre Museum, in Paris on April 29, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

In February, revenue from international tourism in France “came close to those of 2019”, according to tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne.

At €2.7 billion, revenues for the month were up €1.5 billion compared to last year – still down eight percent compared to 2019, before the pandemic, when France’s tourism sector represented 7.4 percent of GDP and 9.5 percent of jobs.

According to Lemoyne, France is “very well positioned” as the “number one destination for travel in Europe for Americans, Belgians, Italians and Spaniards”.

The French, for their part, are “a European exception”, the minister said, pointing out that 60 percent plan to remain in their own country over the holidays.

“With a domestic base that will remain very strong and the return of international customers, this means that we are in for a summer season that can be very, very dynamic,” he said.

But Didier Arino, director of the Protourisme consultancy, warned there could be trouble ahead.

“It is not the market that is going to be problematic, it is the cost of production of tourist stays, competitiveness, the suitability between the prices of products and purchasing power,” he said.

“The players are all increasing their prices, and right now it is going well because people want to enjoy themselves. But we are reaching the limit of what is acceptable for many customers.”

Globally, international tourist arrivals worldwide have more than doubled, up 130 percent in January 2022 on the same period last year, according to the latest UN World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) figures. 

In Europe, tourists are heading to France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Iceland, but still not in the same numbers as before Covid.

Worldwide, there have been 18 million additional visitors, the UNWTO said, “equivalent to the total increase recorded over the whole of 2021”.

In 2019, global tourism revenues reached $1.48 trillion. That figure dropped by almost two thirds due to the pandemic the following year.

But UNWTO also highlighted how the Omicron Covid variant put the brakes on the rise, with international arrivals in January 2022 still 67 percent lower than before the pandemic.

Larry Cuculic, general manager of the Best Western hotel company, is optimistic. “I travelled earlier this week and I can tell you that the airports, the international terminals in the US are very crowded and there is a demand or an interest in travelling to Europe, because for several years we couldn’t do that,” he told AFP. “We miss going to Paris, Rome and Berlin.”

Travel by Chinese tourists, the world’s biggest spenders before the pandemic, is also severely affected by China’s zero-Covid policy. But travel analyst ForwardKeys has indicated that the second quarter of 2022 still looks “more promising for international travel in the world than the first quarter”.

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TOURISM

What to know when visiting France’s lavender fields this summer

Known affectionately as 'blue gold,' France’s lavender fields are a popular tourist attraction every year. Here is what you need to know about visiting them:

What to know when visiting France's lavender fields this summer

Lavender is the “soul of Provence,” the French region where the fields can be found. Like wine, lavender was brought to France around 2,000 years ago by the Romans. The flower is the emblem of ‘Haute Provence’ regional identity, though the fields stretch from just outside of Nice almost all the way up to Valence, and they are not fully exclusive to France.

Even the washerwomen, those whose job it was to clean clothes and linen, were referred to as les lavandières in France. 

The flowers, which can be found mainly in two species in Provence, have several uses – as oils for cooking and bathing, as a perfume for soaps, and even as an antiseptic for healing wounds and scars.

The lavender essential oil that comes from Provence is even an AOP (L’Appellation d’origine protégée) in France. 

When is the best time to see the fields?

Typically, the lavender flowers from around mid-June to early-to-mid August. However, depending on the weather, especially if there is a drought or hotter temperatures, the lavender might flower sooner than normal, which is likely the case for this year.

This is unfortunately also a side effect of climate change, which might be pushing up the lavender flowering season.

Where should I go?

The Valensole plateau is perhaps the most famous place to go for lavender fields. Speckled with several small Provencal towns, the area is beautiful, with a mountainous backdrop in the distance. If you go here, you might also be able to see the sunflower fields too.

Sault is perhaps a bit less known, partially because due to its altitude, the lavender typically flowers a bit later.

It is still a great place to go see the fields, and every year the town hosts a Lavender Festival in August. Walking (or cycling) between the villages (Aurel, Saint-Trinit and Saint-Christol) is very manageable.

This is not too far from the Sénanque Abbey, a medieval 12th century abbey which is surrounded by lavender fields. You might notice some small stone houses called bories in the fields, which were historically used for field workers.

Luberon Valley is another location that comes highly recommended. In the area, there is a regional national park, home to rosé wines, castles (chateaux) and charming villages, like Gordes, a stunning hilltop village.

Here you can also find the Musée de la Lavande, if you are looking to learn more about harvesting, producing and distilling lavender, its industry, and some interesting regional history.

How to get there?

You can take a TGV train to Aix-en-Provence or Avignon, or rent a car. With a car, you can also enjoy the several scenic routes that allow you to see the fields from the roads.

What else is there to do while in the region?

The area is also known for its rosé wine, so you could take the opportunity to go visit some vineyards or spend some time wine-tasting. 

In the summer months, the south of France can get quite warm. If you are looking to go swimming or enjoy the water, the Gorges du Verdon are not too far away. Though a bit of a tourist hotspot, the canyon is a beautiful and a wonderful place for paddling along in a canoe.

If you’re a fan of hiking, you can always go for a (light) hike along the Ochre Trail near Roussillon. Here, there are two marked paths that will take you through sunset-colored red and yellow cliffs in an old quarry.

Words of Wisdom

Unless you have been given express permission, do not pick the lavender, as this is the farmer’s livelihood. You can always buy a bouquet from nearby souvenir shops for your photo shoots! 

Also, stick to the paths that exist to avoid trampling any crops, and of course do not litter in the fields. 

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